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Fiddler's Rose - Eighteen - Minotaur

Fiddler's Rose – Chapter Eighteen – Minotaur (Updated 6/15/2018)

>>>Scene One: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Hello, Sword. This is Rose, blood and will, you know the song. I am sitting in a grove of trees that belongs to a very nice dryad named Cherry, and I am in a contemplative trance that makes me more open to communication with non-corporeal beings. I am holding you, the sword, with hands that have been smeared with my own blood, because that seems to be the way this is done, and I would REALLY like to talk to you. Before very long my friend Fiddler, who is a ghost bound to an object that is very far away, and I are going to talk for a while. You are welcome to listen, but I would love to have you join in, because I REALLY want to hear your story. And as I said this morning, I am willing to put you back on the bottom of the lake if that is what you want. But you need to tell me that.”

“Good evening, Rose. Still sword watching?”

“Yes. I wish I knew if there was enough left of her to understand me.”

“If you could arrange for my dagger to make contact with the sword, I could probably find out in short order.”

“Oh?”

“I can pull ghosts into dreamspace, if they are close enough.”

“Interesting. We may try that route, someday, if nothing else works in the meantime.”

“Other than that, how was your day?”

“Busy. Tiring. I did FIVE flights, since I knew I had a safe place to sleep, and I explored the peninsula pretty thoroughly from a hundred yards up..”

“How did THAT go?”

“Learned a lot. Saw the minotaur in person, almost got killed...”

“ROSE!”

“Remember how you told me that when a minotaur bellowed, humans froze?”

“Yes?”

“I didn't.”

“Didn't freeze, or didn't remember?”

“Either. Both. It was a near thing, though. One of his watchtowers is as close to Cherry's island as you can get, and he must have gotten word that I was in the air. He was in that tower with several of his women when I flew by after my third flight, and he bellowed at me. I fought it off. It came close to freezing me, and came REALLY close to making me lose Sister Wings, but I stayed in control. Which was good, because if I had lost my wings I was too low to get them back again before the splat.”

“If I had a heart, it would seize.”

“You don't even have a metaphorical heart.”

“I do too, and it is in the custody of a suicidal maniac.”

“I am NOT suicidal, and only occasionally maniacal. Anyway... The bellow messed up his archers, too, so I didn't get punctured while I was remembering how to fly.”

“Remembering how to... This just gets better and better.”

“But the good news is that I have heard the bellow, now. I have an idea of what it does to me, and I can prepare myself for it.”

“That's good, I guess.”

“I was heading back to the island to rest, anyway, and I got some water, and something to munch on, and I spent most of the next hour sitting on the shore of the island where King Horns could see me, making obscene gestures.”

“I am not sure if that is charming or stupid. Probably both.”

“He bellowed at me several more times, which was apparently really hard on his archers, but I sort of got used to it. I still cringe whenever he does it, but I think that in a fight, the act of inhaling deeply and actually doing the bellow would be more of a handicap than my cringe.”

“You're thinking of trying to fight him?”

“It's a possibility. But only if I think the odds are heavily in my favor.”

“You couldn't just seduce him as Emma and stab him in his sleep?”

“I think that he ever came near physical Emma, as opposed to illusion Emma, he would own her. His magic is tuned to mammals, which is why it doesn't work too well on me.”

“And I seem to recall that Emma was a mammal.”

“Yes. But I still haven't decided to try to put him down, yet. I don't LIKE him, but that doesn't carry a death sentence. Cherry says that I will change my mind.”

“So, other than terrifying minotaur encounters, what did you actually learn?”

“The peninsula is a farming community. They have horses and cows and pigs and sheep and goats and chickens. They have grain fields and pastures and orchards. They have lots of timber, and they seem to be harvesting THAT carefully.”

“The minotaur is a FARMER?”

“It would seem so. I saw several hundred people working the fields, all of them women. There is a smithy and a windmill and something I think was a sawmill. The one thing I didn't see was any houses. The buildings are in clusters every mile or so, up and down the peninsula, and every one of them has a big building that seems to be a barracks or a dormitory.”

“The minotaur is a farmer.”

“The minotaur is the center of a stable, sensible community that has been rolling along smoothly for more than a hundred years. Do you know how rare that is?”

“Pretty rare. Not unheard of.”

“I don't like him AT ALL, but on the face of things, he's a good king. I know Cherry says he needs to die, but so far I don't see it.”

“Do you trust Cherry?”

“She's a dryad that I've known for three days. She has her own agenda. But I have no reason to believe she would lie to me.”

“So you keep asking questions.”

“Which is actually the task Cherry set in front of me.”

“It is, isn't it? What next?”

“Tomorrow, I go east and talk to a sorcerer Cherry writes letters to.”

“Say what?”

“He has a hawk familiar, and they write letters to each other. He has minotaur stories that Cherry thinks I should hear.”

“How far is it?”

“About thirty miles, just outside the minotaur's claimed territory. There's a town at the end of the minotaur's road called “Threshold” that is the official access point to the minotaur's lands. The sorcerer lives there.”

“Should be interesting.”

“Should be. And not as tiring as today was. But for now... Might I have a lullaby, good Fiddler?”

“As her Grace wishes.”


>>>Scene Two: A meadow

“What do you WANT?” the minotaur growled.”

“I want something to happen that has nothing to do with you, and that I have to wait for,” Rose answered.

“Why were you spying on my lands?”

“I wasn't SPYING, I was sight-seeing. It seems we are going to be neighbors for a little while, and I thought I would look around. Spying implies hostile intent, and I have none.”

“So you say. But you did not stop even when your life was in danger.”

“My life was never in danger. I have no intention of getting close enough that I can't dodge an arrow. You should tell your ladies not to waste their time. You should also be proud of your community; it's beautiful.”

“It's... You like it?”

“It's well laid out, and well maintained, and your workers seem to be happy. At least I didn't see a trace of any overseers with whips, so I got that impression.”

“I... you... Thank you. I try very hard to take care of my people.”

“Are they all your daughters?”

“The ones in the fields are. Those who are not are less domesticated, and more fragile, and are kept... contained.”

“Where do the others come from?”

“Sometimes women run from intolerable homes. Sometimes I am allowed to buy female criminals.”

“But you do trade with the outside world?”

“Yes.”

“What do you trade?”

“They bring me iron and gold, and sometimes food. Sometimes they bring me interesting weapons to study and duplicate and improve upon. I give them blades and some leather goods.”

“You manufacture weapons?”

“My goal is to be acknowledged as the finest smith in the world. I have yet to see a blade that I have not be able to reproduce and improve upon.”

“That's quite a claim.”

“It is the truth.”

“I have no reason to doubt you, but I have never seen your work.”

The minotaur did something with his mouth that might have been a smile. “Come to the front gate; I will give you a tour, and perhaps a demonstration.”

Rose smiled back. “I'll think about it.”

“You would be welcome to stay for the rest of your life.”

“I'm sure I would. I probably won't think about it very hard.”

“As you wish. They are beautiful blades.”

“I'm sure. And on that note, I am off to sleep.”


>>>Scene Three: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Hello, Sword. Once again, I am Rose and I call upon you, by my blood and by my will, to at least consider talking to me. And once again I have things to do today, and I don't really have very long to spend doing this right now, but I still going to keep doing it twice a day until...”

“Winter. My name is Winter.”

“Hot damn. You're... HERE.”

“I am here. And I have listened to you, and to your friend the ghost, and I have heard his music. I will consider telling you my story. But you have been polite, and I thought you should know that I was truly listening, and that you should have my name.”

“That's... Thank you. I am very grateful. I have traveled over a thousand miles to find you, and am glad that you are... I am very pleased to meet you, Winter, and I repeat, I will return you to your retreat, if you will let me try to understand.”

“We shall see. For now, I know that you have somewhere to be, and I have been quiet for a very long time, and I have never been full of conversation. I will continue to listen.”

“And you are welcome to. Until tonight, Lady Winter.”

“Until tonight, Rose Dragon-marked.”


>>>Scene Four: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Winter, I don't know if you can hear me, but I thought I would hold the sword and get into a trance for a little bit WITHOUT cutting myself first, just to see if you can still hear me, because while I don't MIND cutting myself to open the link, I would really rather not if it isn't necessary...”

“I can hear you, Rose. There is more than enough of your blood on the blade.”

“Thank you for answering so quickly. Fiddler should be here soon, and I have a lot to tell him, and you are welcome to listen, if you would like. And I know he would love to hear from you, if you can hear him without the blood, and I would like to know if you can... Why do I always babble like an idiot when I talk to you?”

“I do not know that, Rose. Perhaps you are not sure I am listening. If you are holding the sword, I am.”

“That's good to know. I've wondered... Do you think of the sword as your body, or is only an anchor?”

“I am the sword, and the sword is me.”

“Also good to know. Do you mind if I keep asking questions, or would you rather I were quiet?”

“I will speak in my own time, Rose. I am used to the silence. But I enjoy hearing your conversations with Fiddler.”

“As you wish.”

“Why do I think I just missed something?” Fiddler asked.

“You didn't JUST miss it,” Rose answered. “Winter, the Lady of the Sword, introduced herself this morning. I believe she is still listening, and will introduce herself to you if you behave yourself.”

“That is an excessively high premium.”

“As it may be.”

“How was Threshold?”

“Educational. I flew past it and entered the town on foot from the west, so that no one would think I was coming from minotaur country, and Cherry's friend Badger met me on the west edge of town, and brought me back to his house for a LONG conversation. And I delivered two bottles of Cherry's Dryad Brandy that she had promised him.”

“So the conversation consisted mostly of giggling fits.”

“No, I told him that the stuff would knock him off his feet, and that he should approach it VERY cautiously, and for the most part we made do with water.”

“My Rose has an iron will.”

“When she needs to. He had managed to borrow a sword that the minotaur had made, just to show me, and it was... amazing. He might actually have a shot at being the best smith ever.”

“That's quite a claim.”

“It was quite a sword. I've never seen a piece of jewelry that was better finished, and it was beautifully balanced, and felt like it was alive in my hand. It's edge was barely a rumor. I had no way to test how well it would hold an edge, but other than that...”

“You might want to be careful giving another blade too much praise when you are are talking to a different one, and you have a third blade in your lap.”

“Jealous, Fid?”

“Perhaps. And I feel an obligation of kinship to defend the Lady Winter.”

“I think that she can speak for herself, and that she knows I mean her no slight. After all, she's not the work of a forge, any more than your dagger is.”

“Hmm. Nicely recovered.”

“I've been practicing.”

“Don't I know it. Continuing...”

“Badger is fascinated by the minotaur, and collects stories about him. So... First of all the minotaur seems to have told the truth about escape attempts; Badger has not heard a single story of a woman who left the minotaur. Not one.”

“And there are hundreds of women there, who have been raised there, cradle to grave.”

“Yes.”

“And NONE of them have ever gone over the wall?”

“None.”

“That's... If you tell a hundred humans, 'Step through this door, or you will die,' three of them will refuse.”

“Yes.”

“You REALLY need to talk to some of the tree girls.”

“Yep. Other than that, though... It seems that the minotaur actually marked his border several decades ago. A group of women brought out stone markers and set them at about 100 yard intervals over more than 100 miles.”

“That's a lot of stones.”

“It took them several months. But it's been marked, and a couple of dozen of heavily armed women walk the line every spring and every fall. People are allowed to cross the line to cut timber, and even plow and harvest crops. Any buildings built on the wrong side of the line are destroyed by the minotaur's patrols, and anyone who actually SLEEPS on the wrong side of the line is dealt with by the minotaur personally.”

“In dreamspace.”

“In dreamspace. Women are treated to the best dreamspace sex he can give them, and then invited to come to the gates and join the community, and men...”

“...are raped and tortured until they regain consciousness.”

'It's worse than that. First, they are turned into women and treated to the best dreamspace sex he can give them, and THEN they are raped as men as violently as a minotaur who is something like twelve feet tall can manage-- the real minotaur is something like eight feet tall, but the way, which is scary enough-- and THEN he tortures them until they start to gibber. Many men never recover. Badger says he doesn't know of anyone who has ever been willing to spend a second night on the wrong side of the line.”

“I am horrified, and ashamed to be a practitioner of...SOME of the same arts, and really, REALLY curious as to why his victims don't wake up before they break that thoroughly.”

“I was wondering about that, too. Also about the pleasant sexual prelude. That seems strange.”

“It does. Though with most men, even if the initial experience is pleasant, the... echoes are toxic. That is pretty much what I did to Kellarth, and it killed him.”

“But Kellarth didn't object when it was actually happening, did he? It was only when he was awake, and dealing with his memories, that it destroyed him.”

“Yes. At least I think so.”

“How did you find me, three years ago?”

“What?”

“The very first thought you sent me, three years ago, was my name. How did you find me? How did you know it was me?”

“You were a new light; I had been aware of Drellan, though I didn't know his name, and you popped up next to him, and I recognized you.”

“HOW did you recognize me?”

“Well, I KNEW you. From before, on the 'Sufferance'.”

“And because you knew me, you were able to find me even in the middle of all the other sorcerers in Skytower and Ironbridge.”

“Yes...”

“Is it easier to influence people if you know them better?”

“Maybe. I've never really thought about it. When I was alive, I always had plenty of strength to do whatever I wanted to do, and after that, I was able to draw enough strength from my partner to do whatever I wanted to do.”

“But you never really TRIED to torture anyone.”

“Except Belkith Nor.”

“And he had a personal power of near zero when you attacked him.”

“Yes. What are you thinking about?”

“Have you ever seen a spider kill a fly?”

“Can't say I have.”

“The fly gets caught in the web, and then the spider bites it once, which stuns the fly, and then the spider binds the fly really thoroughly, and THEN the spider eats.”

“Catch, then bind, then torture. So the pleasant part of ritual is the binding.”

“Right. Even though being a woman tends to unhinge most men, anyway.”

“Evil doesn't really do your friend the minotaur justice, does it?”

“I'm thinking not.”

“So you're really going to try to kill him, aren't you?”

“Not yet.”

“Have you suddenly become sane?”

“No... Fid, it's a three stage question. First, does he deserve to die? Second, should I be the one to kill him? Third, CAN I kill him? We're still dealing with Question One at the moment.”

“I thought you had settled that.”

“No. I mean, he's evil, and I hate him, but... He's built a stable community, and his subjects seem to be happy, mostly. He may not have had any right to the territory he claims when he claimed it, but he has held it for many generations, and it's his, now. He defends it brutally, but his actions are only defensive. I don't see anything in that list that warrants a death sentence.”

“So where does that leave you?”

“It leaves me waiting to talk to a tree girl or two.”

“And if they add nothing of significance to the soup?”

“I thank Cherry for her hospitality, tell her I am not the solution to the minotaur, and head for home.”

“But you don't think that is going to happen.”

“No, I don't.”

“Because?”

“Because Cherry has already talked to the tree girls, and knows things that I don't, and is convinced that I am going to kill the minotaur for her.”

“That's a disturbingly strong argument.”

“It is, isn't it? I think that that is enough, for now, though. I am going to break this trance, have a shot of Dryad Brandy, endure another session with King Horns, and eventually get some real sleep. Though I really look forward to being able to sleep without shielding myself from the minotaur, one of these days.”

“Would her Grace care for a lullaby first?”

“Her Grace would LOVE a lullaby, Master Scorpion.”


>>>Scene Five: A meadow

“You are still here,” said the minotaur.

“I'm still waiting. I would prefer to be elsewhere.”

“Perhaps I should build some boats, and come after you.”

“That would not be wise. Your ladies don't swim, and water is my element.”

“But you fly.”

“Water is one of my elements, then. Many things can go wrong across a mile of open water.”

“I would not know. That is why I stay away from it.”

“Indeed. Tell me, how do your ladies earn your displeasure?”

“What?”

“You said that some of you ladies earned your displeasure, and you exiled them to the southern peninsula.”

“It is none of your business.”

“True, but I'm curious, and you insist on questioning me, so I thought I would ask.”

“The community has certain expectations of each of its members. Those who are unable to meet them are, as you say, exiled.”

“What obligations?”

“Things that have nothing to do with you.”

“Fair enough. How did you come to be here, then? What made you decide to make this community?”

“I grew tired of being hunted, and put thought into finding a better way. I started to approach farmers and herdsmen and smiths in dreamspace, and I asked them questions, and they taught me things.”

“But you didn't leave the women alone, and you still got chased and hunted.”

“And I usually ended up killing most of my teachers, which made me sad. But they attacked me, and I had no choice.”

“And then you built a community?”

“First I built a farm of my own, and it was good, but I had to follow my nature. Women came to me, and men followed the women, and then I had to run, again.”

“And THEN you built a community.”

“I tried to take over a small town with a wall, but the word spread to other towns before I was ready, and they destroyed my work, and nearly killed me. And I realized that I needed a place where I could defend ALL of my land, and then I found this place, which gave me sixteen square miles of land behind a wall only one mile long.”

“That's efficient.”

“I lured women to me, and I built, and we all worked, and the community grew, and now it has been stable for more than a century, and I have been able to concentrate on becoming a bladesmith.”

“And you have stopped luring in outside women?”

“I take no women from Threshold. I visit women from other communities, in dreams, but I seldom find one worthy of being called as part of my family. Sometimes they come to me on their own, and I welcome them.”

“And they adapt to the life?”

“They do not live long; the life is hard for one not bred to it.”

“But their daughters adapt?”

“Their grand-daughters, at least.”

“What is it that makes your lives so difficult?”

“Theirs, not mine. I do not bear a child every year.”

“Every... Thank you for your civility. You've given me much to think about.”

End of Chapter Eighteen
Copyright 2018 by Paul Haynie
All rights reserved.
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